Category Archives: Think

The Art of Efficient Problem-Solving: More Than Just Skill

Have you ever wondered why two equally skilled individuals can have drastically different efficiencies in solving the same problem? This question struck me as I observed various people working on SQL tasks. Remarkably, some completed the task in just 10 minutes, while others took up to 2 hours. Why such a disparity?

Interestingly, everyone in this group rated themselves 7 out of 10 in SQL proficiency. Certainly, some people might have misrated themselves, or used different scales. But even among those with similar knowledge levels, one major difference stood out – their approach to problem-solving. It’s fascinating how the approach, more than the skill level, dictates efficiency.

However, the right approach, honed through experience, can be a game-changer. By watching them, I’ve identified five key steps to streamline the learning curve and enhance efficiency in any endeavor, including SQL:

  1. Focus on the Core: Start with the main thread or problem. In SQL, start with selecting the right table. Once you’ve done that, choosing fields and building your query becomes easier.
  1. Leverage Available Tools: Utilize features like IntelliSense in SQL. This tool auto-completes field names and commands, saving time and reducing errors such as misspellings that can cause unnecessary delays.
  1. Simplify Concepts: Start with using aliases in SQL. Instead of memorizing long table structures, use concise, meaningful aliases. For instance, ‘c’ for customers and ‘o’ for orders. This makes your code easier to read and remember.
  1. Begin with Familiar Territory: Break down the problem and start with what you know. In SQL, begin with a single table and gradually incorporate additional tables as you build your query.
  1. Validate Your Progress: Regularly check that you’re making positive progress. Execute your code often. This practice helps you stay on track and catch errors early, rather than revisiting and debugging later.

These steps, while tailored for SQL, can be universally applied to many other fields. The essence lies in taking a step back to assess and refine your approach. Whether it’s SQL or any other skill, the right strategy can dramatically improve your efficiency and output.

This observation goes beyond just coding; it’s about how we approach problems in our professional lives. A methodical, well-thought-out approach not only saves time but also enhances the quality of work. It’s a testament to the fact that experience isn’t just about knowing more; it’s about knowing the right approach.

What is a Blog and Why It Doesn’t Matter

what is a blogRecently Daily Blog Tips asked a question What is a Blog? The answer is it doesn’t matter. To someone who hasn’t heard of the concept it’s just a new/easy way for a person to publish content on the internet. That’s all you need to know. When you come across a website it wont matter to you if it’s a blog, wiki, microblog, social website, 2.0 site. All that matters is if it’s delivering what you need. If it is, then subscribe or check back often otherwise it’s called trash.

The problem with the web is that it introduces many ways to waste time- it’s up to you to take the good and leave the bad. Usually Daily Blog Tips is a very informative site, but occasionally even good sites do bad things- but don’t count them out for it. If they make it a pattern though, you should decide if it’s worth it.

Now let’s not waste more time with this- go back to being productive.

How To Be A Winner and Thanks For Making Me One

As I mentioned, I recently entered a contest at ChangeThis– whose mission is to “spread important ideas and change minds“. My proposal “Stop Bring Productive, Start Being Successful” was selected to be voted on. The person with the most votes for their proposal gets their manifesto (long article) published. I was against 9 others with big ideas. Fortunately, with your help (Thank You) I won! The manifesto is coming soon. Here’s some of my take aways.

Think Like a Winner

Put your concerns aside and do your best. Confidence and determination are key. Think of a plan how to get success and do it.

Put Yourself in Position To Win

“You miss 100 percent of the shots you never take.”

Wayne Gretzky

If I had been intimidated by the other good ideas I wouldn’t have entered. As the lotto says- “you gotta be in it to win it” (not that I’m advocating playing the lotto). Take whatever cliche you want, the point is if you aren’t trying, you definitely wont win.

Look For Inspiration

By blog buddy Francis Wade of 2Time had entered a previous contest and won.

Ask for Help

You can’t win on your own. I asked Francis for some pointers. I asked my readers to vote. I asked my online buddies to vote. You all came through. Thanks.

Dazzle Your Boss: Solve the Problem, Not the Request

How often does your boss come to you with a very specific question/request? If you’re like most good employees you’ll try to work on it quickly and answer his specific question (bad employees will not even take the time to understand the request). I’m here to tell you that’s not a good idea!

Many times your boss is just trying to simplify the problem for you and he glosses over important details. Or worse, he doesn’t know exactly what he wants but comes to your with confidence asking for the wrong thing. What you need to do is to find out what he really wants not what he says he wants.

How can you do this? Simple, ask questions to ensure you understand what he really wants to accomplish.

I had this relationship with one of my bosses. I kept asking questions so that he stopped just giving me a quick command. Instead, he spent a minute or two explaining the background. Sometimes I had some good suggestions, other times it really was a simple request. Through all my questions an interesting thing happened- my knowledge of what was happening around the company increased. I gained a better understanding of projects my department was working on. I was able to take on more complex projects because I knew the background that gave me a foundation. In short, I became a more valuable employee because I knew more and I solved problems.

Did you ever give your boss what he asked for only to do it over again once you found out what he really wanted? Stop and ask. Comment below on how your situation turned out.

Lessons for Leaders: New Projects

As you know I think it’s very important to “think“. Thinking can lead to ideas which can help your business succeed, lead to harmony at home or even change the world (E=MC2).

Once I came into my manager’s office and started my thoughts “I thought of a new project”. He cut me off and said “If you have time to think of new projects you don’t have enough work.” The last thing you want is for your boss to think you don’t have enough work. He’ll start doubting the validity of your effort and will overload you with more tasks. But I was undeterred.

I went on to explain “I thought of a new project for the intern.” I explained the project. It used the intern’s skills, required minimal training, would save a lot of time from a more senior member of the team and was strategic in nature. Basically, it was the perfect project for an intern, with a huge upside for our company. My boss agreed and the project worked out well.

The conversation left an impression on me and gave me a few lessons for my future:

  • Create an environment where people are free to give you new ideas.
  • Let people finish their thoughts.
  • Encourage thinking.

Would people come into your office with ideas? Do you allow your spouse or kids to give you ideas? Do you let people finish their thoughts? Do you take time to think?

8 Steps to a Productive Day

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Path to a productive dayThe Getting Things Done Yahoo Group is having an interesting discussion about Control mechanisms.

Without control mechanisms of some type in place, doesn’t that pretty much leave you in the lap of the gods so to speak?

In my response I outlined 8 steps to being productive. I try to instill control, yet give the flexibility to be creative and maximize your day. It all starts with thinking first.


At the end of each day you should plan your next day. This may be an outgrowth of your weekly review- or as it should be called “The Weekly Preview”. Depending on your type of job think this is impossible, but it’s not. For example, if you are in constant crisis mode most of your plan may be thrown out each morning but your plan should be to get the bottom of the crisis so you can move past it.

First you’ll need to determine the most important tasks (MITs) that need to be done the next day. Don’t count daily maintenance tasks like following up and checking email as part of this. If there are 20 things you need to get done then you’re just setting yourself up for failure (unless they aren’t big and you can batch a bunch together and count it as one of your MITs).

Don’t try to fill your full day with MITs- these are just the choices to get you started. Just pick the 1-5 items that you want to get done the next day (keep it 3 or less ideally). Start with items that MUST get done (e.g. deadlines) – that if you don’t do it you’ll need to stay late. Also check your calendar of how much time you’ll have. The more scheduled time you have the less MITs you should plan. Then if you still have open slots, pick tasks that will be best for you for the long term while balancing for project size: smaller projects go first. A better idea is to use layering to cut your most strategic projects into small attainable parts so they don’t get pushed off and are the smaller projects that you end up doing.

At the end of this process you’ll have you a few MITs and a bunch of other tasks. Dont worry these other tasks will still get done.

Here’s how to schedule your productive day:

1. Most Important Tasks

Start with your first MIT first thing when you get in, before you check email or process your other in boxes. Much has been written about the advantages of starting the day early. Getting in early to do a MIT can set your day in the right track. Even if you cant get in early get to your first MIT as soon as possible.

2. Process

When you start processing your in boxes do the quick tasks on the spot. GTD has a two minute rule that in itself can trim items off your to do list before they get there. I would expand this to a 5 minute rule (or even 10) for the following scenarios:

a) Lots of small tasks

Your to do lists are long enough, if you keep having to add 5-10 minute tasks to it and cycle through 5-10 minute tasks every time you want to pick a task you’re just wasting time and energy. Further if you know someone will spend 5 minutes following up on these tasks then it wastes more time. Get it done. Once it’s done it’s no longer on your list and out of your mind. This is part of the reason you didn’t over schedule yourself, so you can properly react to your incoming tasks. If you have a lot of these tasks then you may decide to schedule a MIT for the next day to get rid of the 10 minute tasks.

b) Offensive Opportunities

Sometimes if you take care of a task quickly you can create good will. This can be used with prospects, customers and bosses.

c) Preparation

If you receive information about a task that doesn’t have an immediate deadline don’t just file it away, look at it first. Jot down a quick outline of your thoughts. You may create a few Next Actions right away. Pay special attention to missing information, you’ll want to email people quickly so they have maximum time to do proper research. Seek to get project scope/deadline early on- this will save you lots of rushing at the deadline.

d) Soaking Time

Give yourself time to be creative by figuring what needs to be done and let your mind work in the background. Again an outline helps here. Then let your brain work in the background. You can even schedule a reminder for your self in a few days to jot down a few more notes.

3. Maintenance tasks

These are the small daily tasks you need to do like ticklers/follow ups. Be sure that you go through your follow up list.

4. More MITs

Spend uninterrupted time on your next MIT. Set your environment so you can get in the zone.

5. More Processing/Breaks

Breaks are good for you- just don’t take it to an extreme. Two to five minutes every hour gives you time to rejuvenate. After a break you can switch gears to the next MIT or processing time.

You should schedule processing time at key intervals of your day. Different jobs have different requirements. I would recommend once in the morning, once before and after lunch and one last time before you leave.

6. Context

You can only do certain tasks in certain places. In your Preplanning, you may have scheduled yourself to be in a place to do one of your MITS (e.g. a meeting). Be sure that you think through where you’ll be so you can have a productive time during the transitions e.g. as you wait. Trace your steps through transitions. If you find yourself in your car be sure to have your cell phone or something appropriate to listen to.

7. Seize The Day

After you’re done with your MITs for the day, you pick your next task by gaugin the time available/energy available. If you’re ambitious you can find another MIT, otherwise just slice and dice and get your task list down.

8. Start Planning

Before you leave for the day preplan (see the first section) the next day to get it going on the right foot.

As you see this schedule is rigid but allows flexibility. You may be going along one day doing your tasks and realize that the current task can be ATEd (automated, eliminated or delegated). If you spend some extra time now you’ll receive greater benefits in the future. You can then decide to schedule it for the next day or push off your next MIT to the next day and do the automation on the spot.

I used this flexibility to write this blog post. I started the base of this blog post as a reply to the conversation but as I kept writing I realized it was getting lengthy as there were some concepts I wanted to explain. Some may have quit and said there’s too much to write and not enough time allocated. Instead I took the extra time and it became the foundation for the blog post that I wrote later.

Have a productive day!

Photo credit: Maik Radke

Vote For More Success

Change ThisRecently I submitted a proposal to ChangeThis, a site whose mission is to “spread important ideas and change minds” (based on a tip from 2Time). My idea is that we should Stop Being Productive and Start Being Successful.

Are you working harder and harder and becoming more “productive” yet you still feel like there’s much more to do with no end in sight? The problem is that productivity (doing something well) is only one of the three pillars of success. I will explain the other two pillars and show you how you can use a few easy steps to significantly increase your ability to succeed.

They have a voting process (everything is a reality show) and they will distribute the “manifesto”* of the winner. Please go to the site and vote for my idea.

What Will I Write

Readers of this site know the three pillars of success: Think, Do, Enjoy. I plan to expand on these concepts and explain how they can be used to enhance success.

What You Will Get

When my idea is selected (I’m thinking positive), you will be able to download the full document for free.

* Manifesto always reminds me of the unibomber. I promise no people will be harmed in the making my manifesto.

Getting Dreams Done Part 1: Making Dreams Reality

What’s stopping you from achieving your dreams? For many people it’s simple, they haven’t verbalized their dreams. Without verbalization, dreams can’t happen. Others will fire back the usual dream, “I want to be rich and happy”. Having a dream is a step in the right direction but if you haven’t turned your dreams into actionable items and pursued it, that’s what it will remain- a dream but not reality. So how can you turn a dream into reality? There are 4 easy steps: verbalize the dream, set your goals, create a plan to turn that dream into reality and of course execute. In this part we will focus on verbalizing the dream.

Determining Your Dreams

One of the key points of the Success Making Machine (and how it enhances GTD) is that you are encouraged, dare I say required, to verbalize your dreams. In the dream phase you are picturing what success looks like. At this point, you can make them as unrealistic as you want or as generic as you want, even “I want to be rich and happy”. The more specific you are the more it will help you in the long run. One way to put some structure around your dreams is to verbalize dreams for each area of your life: career, financial, family, social, community, health etc .

Be Positive

When you are verbalizing your dreams- focus on what you want, not what you don’t want. For example, “I want to be rich” is more powerful than “I don’t want to be poor”.

Before you commit to a dream ask yourself if it’s really what you want. Picture your life with your dream achieved. You may find that it isn’t quite what you want. Growing up, many of us wanted to be sports/music or film stars. If you had the magic powers to have the talent for it would you still want it? Maybe you wanted the fun that went with being a baseball player but do you really want to play every single day for 10-20 years? Perhaps you may want it but do you want to keep up that rigorous travel schedule? How will this correspond with your goal of raising a family? So before you commit- think it through.

Buy into your dream

A dream should be something you truly want. Then set your energies to it. Your thoughts, beliefs and actions should be geared toward achieving this goal. You’ll need to believe this dream is possible. You don’t need to know all the details of how it will happen- just know that it will. As you continue to read through this series some of the next steps to success will crystallize. Some would call this the “Law of Attraction” (if you believe/act a certain way you will attract it). This site isn’t build on going into psychological tricks and unproven theories- it’s about logic and actions. Logic tells you if you believe something, invest yourself in it and your mind works toward achieving it, you will be more likely to succeed. You can call it karma- I’ll call it logic.

The Finale

Peter at I will change your life(which I recommend) has a well defined dream:

…to write a book that would help young people, or anyone really, find happiness and meaning in their life…

In the final part in this series I will outline how to use the lessons from this series to approach his dream.

What’s your dream?

Verbalize it and you’ll get closer to achieving it. Now that you’ve started to crystallize your dreams, in the next section we’ll talk about taking steps to achieve it. Subscribe to this feed to be notified when the next part of this series is posted.

The Best Productivity System For You Guaranteed

Everyone has their own way of doing what it takes to be successful. Is your system better than mine? Or is mine better than yours? Maybe David’s way is better than both of ours? The answer to all three of these questions is undoubtedly “Yes”.

For you, your way is better. For me, my way is better etc. Lets face it, we all do things differently. We do things different because we are in different situations. You may have a home office and need to set up barriers not to let work into your home life and I may have be overwhelmed with email and dealing with that burden is my primary goal.

No matter how well we do things our system is not perfect. This is why you’re reading and trying to get tips to improve yourself- to be more productive. I’m here to find common ground to see where we agree (or should agree)- there are certain fundamentals for success.

My goal on this site is to identify the fundamentals (roadmap and tools) to achieving success. Then you can choose how you want to implement it. You already perform many of the fundamentals yourself but we need to organize it so that we dont need to think about what’s next. Identifying a roadmap will give you a way to tackle any project. The tools will help you get there faster.

The key to any project is to start with basic building blocks: Think, Do, Enjoy. In short:

  • Think before you do something.
  • Do- Do it the best way you can.
  • Enjoy it- gives motivation and meaning to what needs to be done

There’s much more to each of those phases, but I’ve only introduced you to the basics, which you can already apply. The key is to start small- you can’t make a radical change overnight. Building your success machine will take time. You need to take on one task at a time execute it well and gradually take on more as you integrate this into your life. This process is called layering: you start with one success and build on it. Now you’ve just added a new tool to your success tool box (I’m sure you always had it but it never had a name). Next time you have a large project you’ll take the time to think first- how can I break this down into smaller parts. How can I get something done? Pretty soon you’ll be a pro at layering and your productivity will soar.

Should you use an outlook/palm combination or is it a gmail/remember the milk combination to track your to dos? That’s up to you. If i take you out of your comfort zone you wont listen to even the best system. The key to getting more productive and successful is taking it one step at a time.

The best system for you is the one that works for you. Look around here, read Getting Things Done, read other blogs take the best ideas and implement them in your life. Then you’re guaranteed to increase your chance for success.

Do You Have The Audacity to Succeed?

Most times when I read a blog post and it has some good ideas I’ll file it
away. But the idea usually isn’t acted on. The problem is there’s just too much information out there and without quick action a newer idea has taken its place in your mind. But there’s one post by Skelliewag that truly inspired me to act and it has already helped me achieve results.

The Problem
First, a little background. I’m interested in being more productive (aren’t we all?). I’ve read the productivity books and the productivity blogs. Some are interesting, some are useful but they’re all flawed. One common flaw is that although they can teach you how to do a task faster they don’t consider that maybe you shouldn’t be doing it at all! But the biggest flaw is that they concentrate so much on “doing” (faster, better) that they neglect to realize that you’re not enjoying what you’re doing. What’s the point in doing something if you don’t enjoy it?!? It’s no wonder there are so many posts on motivation and overcoming procrastination.

Based on my readings and experience I’ve boiled success down to a simple formula: Think, Do. Enjoy. The doing is important but when you think before you do and enjoy the process- it increases the potential for success exponentially.

Using this formula, I took an inventory of what I enjoy: writing and increasing my productivity/success. As a result I launched my site Success Making Machine which shares the details of my system. But a site takes time to grow so I had to think of ways to promote my site.

I can just continue to post quality articles and hope someone notices to make a big splash. But that’s a long process. Then I saw inspiration: Skellie’s post Audacious Blogging. There are many ways to be audacious. The Success Making Machine principles encourages calculated risks. I wouldn’t try to be a guest poster for a New York Times blog, that’s too big of a risk (waste of time). My idea was to be audacious by trying to become a guest blogger on Skelliewag, it’s a warm site in my target and she recommends guest posting (#58),

When you’re doing something do it right. I could have just sent an email inquiry to Skellie asking if she would be interested in a guest post but that would have made it too easy to brush off. So I wrote the entire post in advance. Why spend time writing the full post when an inquiry would have seen if there was interest? Audacity! I needed to prove that the post would be quality.

At every stage of doing and thinking you should enjoy it. I follow a simple Success Making Machine principle: Do more of what you like and less of what you don’t like. Without enjoyment people give up at the first sign of adversity. So why am I up past midnight with an early morning tomorrow writing? I could have put this off for another day. The answer is I enjoy it.


So does Audacity work? This isn’t Hollywood, everything doesn’t have a perfect ending. Skellie “loved the post”, but she’s not accepting guest posts at this time. But there is a happy ending which shows it is worth it to shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars. She did offer to link to the story on my blog. So I modified the original for my blog (this makes the original post the best post you never saw). I now have a link from a popular blog and a great story. I think audacity works.

So act now and be audacious.

Update: Skellie linked to this blog at The 5 Barriers to Success Series — Part 3: The Absence of Definition